Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is Negation a Head?

A common idea (dating back at least to Chomsky 1957) is that do-support is triggered in English when adjacency between Tense and the verb is disrupted. The idea is that negation comes between Tense and V, blocking morphological merger of the two, and so do-support is required to support the tense affix:

(1)*Leprechauns not eat Lucky Charms.
(2) Leprechauns do not eat Lucky Charms.

An obvious problem for the adjacency account is that adverbs like often do not seem to disrupt the necessary adjacency:

(3) Leprechauns often eat Lucky Charms.
(4)*Leprechauns do often eat Lucky Charms.

In contrast, in other cases where adjacency is necessary, adverbs do count. For instance, verbs and objects must be adjacent in English, as must fronted auxiliaries and subjects:

(5)*Leprechauns eat often Lucky Charms.
(6)*Do often leprechauns eat Lucky Charms?

It is therefore doubtful that surface adjacency is really at issue in do-support. However, it has been proposed that the relevant adjacency is structural, and requires a head-complement relation (e.g., Embick and Noyer 2001). When negation is not present, Tense selects VP, and so their heads can merge morphologically. Adverbs, being adjoined to VP, do not disrupt this relation. Negation, on the other hand, is the head of a projection NegP that comes between T and VP, and that projection disrupts the necessary morphological merger, leading to do-support.

The question then is, why should we think that negation is a head that heads a NegP projection? In word order and other respects English negation acts very much like an adverb. I am aware of two arguments that it is a head. The first is that it can apparently license VP ellipsis, like an auxiliary verb. I have shown in other work that this argument does not go through (Bruening 2010). The second is what I want to address in this blog post, namely, that negation can move to C in subject-auxiliary inversion:

(7) Don't leprechauns eat Lucky Charms?

If subject-auxiliary inversion is head movement, and the auxiliary do got to C by moving first to T and then to C, it would seem to be necessary that the n't got picked up along the path of this head movement. That would only make sense if n't was a head Neg (between the starting position of do and T). Adverbs can never be carried along in head movement:

(8)*Do never leprechauns eat Lucky Charms?

There is another way of looking at negation that does not lead to this conclusion, however. Suppose that, universally, negation is actually a feature of clauses, or CPs. A negative clause has a feature [Neg] on the head C, and this feature is distributed (through selection or Agree) throughout the clause, to T and to V. Individual languages then decide how to spell this feature out. Passamaquoddy, for instance, marks it twice, once with a freestanding particle and again with a morpheme on the verb:

(9) Nihtol kete ma te '-kosiciy-a-wi-wa-l tan op wecessi-t.
that.Obv for.example Neg Emph 3-know-Dir-Neg-3P-Obv WH would IC.from.arrive-3Conj
`I mean, nobody knew where he could have come from.'

In Irish, negation appears to be a complementizer (e.g., Chung and McCloskey 1987):

(10) Ní ólann sé bainne ariamh.
Neg.Comp drink.Present he milk ever
`He doesn't ever drink milk.'

It therefore appears quite plausible that negation can be spelled out in various different positions within a clause (CP), most relevantly on C, and it can even be spelled out more than once. This makes sense if negation is a feature of the clause, which can be spelled out in various different ways. Coming back to English, we can describe the facts in the following way: the [Neg] feature needs to be spelled out, and in this language cannot be spelled out more than once. However, it can be spelled out in one of several different ways: it can be spelled out as an adverb adjoined to the complement of Tense (not); it can be spelled out as a clitic (or perhaps affix) to the head Tense (n't); or it can be spelled out as a clitic (or perhaps affix) on the head C (n't). The latter option can only be chosen if T-to-C movement applies; a precondition for cliticization/affixation to a head is that the head be occupied by an auxiliary. If the [Neg] feature is spelled out on C, it cannot be spelled out on T or as an adverb.

In this account, it is not necessary that negation be a head in order to account for its appearance in C. Negation appears in C not because it was picked up by head movement, but because the feature [Neg] originates on C and can be spelled out on C.

This analysis is cross-linguistically plausible, and the existence of a plausible alternative defuses the head-movement argument for treating negation as a head. The account also fits in with the general point of view that do-support is not about adjacency at all, either string adjacency or structural adjacency. (For a theory where do-support is not about adjacency, see Bruening 2010.)


Bruening, Benjamin (2010). Language-Particular Syntactic Rules and Constraints: English Locative Inversion and Do-Support. Language 86: 43-84.

Chomsky, Noam (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chung, Sandra and James McCloskey (1987). Government, Barriers, and Small Clauses in Modern Irish. Linguistic Inquiry 18: 173-237.

Embick, David and Rolf Noyer (2001). Movement Operations after Syntax. Linguistic Inquiry 32: 555-595.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Scope in Nominalizations

van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) discuss a difference in possible scope readings in nominalizations. They observe that sentence (1) can mean two different things:

(1) The election of nobody surprised me.

On what they call the narrow scope reading, sentence (1) means `Nobody at all was elected, and that was surprising.' On the wide scope reading, it means `Of those elected, none of them was surprising.'

In contrast to (1), sentence (2) only has the wide scope reading:

(2) Nobody's election surprised me.

van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) view the narrow scope reading as derived by reconstruction, and devise a theory where reconstruction is blocked in sentence (2). The details of this theory are not important here. Rather, I want to suggest that something else is going on in these examples, and that is whether or not the negative quantifier is interpreted as sentential negation. In sentence (2), nobody as the possessor of the subject is preferentially taken to negate the entire clause, such that negation actually negates the main predicate `surprise'. The wide scope reading is the result of negative quantifiers being complex: they consist of an existential quantifier and negation (e.g., Jacobs 1991). If negation is interpreted as sentential negation, what is left as the possessor is an existential quantifier. The reading is then the negation of `someone's election surprised me,' or, `it is not the case that anyone's election surprised me.' This is van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper's wide scope reading.

The idea is that a negative quantifier as a subject or the possessor of a subject is preferentially interpreted as sentential negation. If we make the nominalization containing the negative quantifier a non-subject, then we can force it to be sentential negation or not by fronting it and either doing negative inversion, or not. A fronted negative phrase plus subject-auxiliary inversion is interpreted as sentential negation; a fronted negative phrase without subject-auxiliary inversion is not interpreted as sentential negation. Consider the following:

(3) With the election of nobody was I surprised.
(4) With nobody's election was I surprised.

The sentences in (3) and (4) only have van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper's wide scope reading. In contrast, (5) and (6) only have the narrow scope reading:

(5) With the election of nobody, I was surprised.
(6) With nobody's election, I was surprised.

There is no contrast between the election of nobody and nobody's election once we control for sentential versus non-sentential negation. In particular, (6) has the reading that (2) is said to lack, while (5) only has one reading when it should be ambiguous.

If all of this is correct, then the scope facts described by van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) do not reveal much about the derivation of nominalizations, and they are not about reconstruction or its lack.


van Hout, Angeliek, Masaaki Kamiya, and Thomas Roeper (2013), Passivization, Reconstruction and Edge Phenomena: Connecting English and Japanese Nominalizations. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 31: 137-159.

Jacobs, Joachim (1991), Negation. In Arnim von Stechow and Dieter Wunderlich (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research, pp 560-596. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Passives with Do So

Hallman (2013) discusses some apparently contradictory data involving English do so. The received view is that do so is incompatible with the passive (Hallman's example 5d):

(1) *These books were left in the classroom, and this cell phone was done so, too.

The typical account of this is that do so is a pro-form and does not have internal structure that can support extraction. The passive subject must move from an object position, but with do so there is no such position. What is surprising and apparently contradictory is that unaccusatives, which are also thought to involve movement from an object position, are compatible with do so (these are Hallman's examples 50a-b):

(2) The river froze solid, and the pond did so, too.
(3) The towels dripped dry, and the socks did so, too.

Unaccusatives pattern with passives in many ways, which has led to the hypothesis that the surface subject of an unaccusative, like the surface subject of a passive, starts out as an object. The fact that do so is compatible with unaccusatives but not passives seems to be problematic for this view.

However, it appears from a web search that do so is in fact compatible with passives, at least for many speakers. The following are some examples found on the web, which do not seem to me to be ungrammatical (though some are a little awkward):

(4) This means that the only the most edible meat is eaten and done so with much chewing as to liquify the food. (

(5) For those who do not know Devil Fruits are extremely rare to find and the ones that are found and eaten are done so in mere happenstance unless you know what to look for. (

(6) I then take notice and observe when the food is brought to table that the meal is picked apart and what is eaten is done so in a controlled and seemingly not pleasurable manner. (

(7) Every photo taken and every update written is done so with the adoptive parents in mind. (

(8) It is thrillingly written, and done so with the clarity and poignancy of a man who waited 62 years to reveal the full account of his experience, after first being approached by American prosecutors in 1947. (

(9) And I think everyone can agree that some of the most beautiful music ever written was done so in the name of God or gods. (quote attributed to Anand Wilder,

(10) The first ``Rosicrucian'' writings, the Fama Fraternitatis, Confessio Fraternitatis and the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, all when written were done so anonymously and then later traced to be the works of Johannes Valentin Andreae,... (Tobias Churton,

From these examples it appears that do so is in fact compatible with any sort of VP: active transitive, unaccusative, passive, and so on. A simple account is that do so is a pro-form for a predicate that takes a subject. The actual predicate is retrieved from context and predicated of the surface subject of do so. This predicate can be a passive or unaccusative one, such that its subject will correspond to an underlying object. For instance, in example (8), done so is replaced with the predicate Lambda x.Exists y. x is written by y.

At the same time, the predicate can only be a predicate with an open subject (a one-place predicate), and no other open positions, so that extraction of other elements is impossible:

(10) *I know which book Mary read, and which book Bill didn't do so. (Hallman 2013, (5a))

As in the traditional account, the predicate has no internal structure in the syntax, and so cannot support a gap. The only gap that is possible is the subject of the predicate itself.

The fact that do so is in fact compatible with passives renders Hallman's conclusions unwarranted and his theory unnecessary. There is no reason to think that passives and unaccusatives do not involve movement in the general case.


Hallman, Peter (2013), Predication and Movement in Passive. Lingua 125: 76--94.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wh-the-Hell: Pair-List Readings with Multiple Questions

Den Dikken and Giannakidou (2002) claim that there is a difference between matrix and embedded questions with wh-the-hell. They say that in a matrix multiple question, a pair-list reading is impossible:

(1) Who the hell is in love with who?

(This is den Dikken and Giannakidou's example 64a, which they give one question mark; they say that a previous publication, a UCLA MA thesis cited as Lee 1994, marked it as completely ungrammatical. I find neither judgment accurate; the sentence is perfect in the right context. See below.)

Sentence (1), according to den Dikken and Giannakidou (2002), only has a single-pair echo reading. In contrast, when it is embedded, it can have a pair-list reading (this is their example 64b):

(2) I am wondering who the hell is in love with who.

Den Dikken and Giannakidou (2002) go on to design a theory of wh-the-hell and questions generally that derives this difference. The details of this theory are not important here, since what I am concerned with is the accuracy of this claimed contrast. I believe a matrix question like (1) can have a pair-list reading, in the right context.

Imagine an Agatha Christie-type murder mystery where the detectives are called to investigate a murder at a country manor. They discover numerous love affairs, love triangles, unrequited loves, and jealousy. After interviewing multiple house guests and family members, one detective turns to the other in exasperation and says, ``Who the hell is in love with who? I can't keep track, have you been making a list?''

In such a context, the sentence in (1) easily has a pair-list reading, as indicated by the follow-up, ``have you been making a list?'' If this judgment is accurate, then the claim in den Dikken and Giannakidou (2002) is not correct, and there is no root/embedded asymmetry to account for.

To verify the accuracy of this judgment, I also looked for such questions occurring on the internet. I found a few that seem to have pair-list readings, as indicated by the context. Here are two:

  • Who the Hell is Who? (title of page, which goes on to list who each person is)
  • But who the hell says what? (game where the reader has to guess who produced a quote, with a whole series of them;’s-one-direction-“who-hell-said-what

Both of these are matrix questions, and both go on to give a list of pairs. Here is another one:

  • Caesar starts the ape rebellion which was talked about in the first films, Caesar is the son of Cornelius and Zira who only went back in time because of Brent who went to the future because of Taylor, so who the hell started what? (

It is not completely clear how many whos and how many whats there are, but the list of potential whos is quite long. In my judgment there could easily be multiple pairs, and it is quite likely that multiple pairs are intended. And again, the sentence is a matrix question, not an embedded one.

I conclude that den Dikken and Giannakidou's claimed contrast between matrix and embedded questions is not real. Multiple wh-the-hell questions can have pair-list interpretations whether they are embedded or not.


den Dikken, Marcel and Anastasia Giannakidou (2002), From Hell to Polarity: ``Aggressively Non-D-Linked'' Wh-Phrases as Polarity Items. Linguistic Inquiry 33: 31--61.